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Voters fired up

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Voter interest in the upcoming election is running high in Jackson County, approaching levels typically seen in presidential cycles.

“It’s definitely busier,” said Chris Walker, Jackson County clerk. “It just feels like there’s a lot more interest based on the calls from people. It almost feels like a presidential election year.”

Walker said she expects the turnout to hit somewhere above 70 percent, still less than presidential elections, when it can reach up to 80 percent locally.

So far, 12.1 percent of ballots, or 18,600, were received on the first day of verification Wednesday at the Jackson County Elections Center. Typically, the first-day number hits 7 or 8 percent, Walker said.

“That’s a very healthy early turnout,” she said.

The returns so far represent 16.7 percent of Democrats, 14.6 percent of Republicans, 5.6 percent of nonaffiliated voters and 11.5 percent of all other parties.

Jackson County has a record 153,788 registered voters. Nonaffiliated voters, those not belonging to a political party, now surpass either Democrats or Republicans. Nonaffiliateds number 48,855, compared with Democrats at 45,392 and Republicans at 48,181. Independents are at 8,029.

One of the most-watched local races is Senate District 3, pitting Republican Jessica Gomez against Democrat Jeff Golden. Democrats have a significant voter registration advantage in the district with 33,617, compared to 25,663 Republicans and 29,174 nonaffiliateds.

Senate District 3 covers southern Jackson County and includes Medford, Ashland, Phoenix and Talent.

Walker said it’s too early to tell which party is hitting the polls the hardest, pointing out that ballots have just started to be verified.

Statewide, 66,000 ballots were returned Tuesday and more than half came from Democrats. Nonaffiliated voters account for 32 percent of the state’s voters, but their turnout remains below Democrats or Republicans. Still, it’s too early to project the statewide turnout because the ballots sent in so far amount to just over 2 percent of the total.

Walker said a large number of voters typically drop off their ballots in the last week before the election.

Nick Card, chairman of Jackson County Republicans, said he’s seen a lot of excitement and a surge in volunteers.

“We had a lot of people really energized by Trump,” he said. “With Knute (Buehler, the Republican candidate for governor), we have a real chance of winning the governorship. That’s motivating a lot of people.”

The Senate race between Gomez and Golden is also driving enthusiasm among Republicans.

Card said his party wants to make sure Democrats don’t get a three-fifths majority in the Senate. Gomez is vying for the seat held by Sen. Alan DeBoer, an Ashland Republican who is retiring in January.

In 2016, the red wave that swept much of nation crashed in Oregon, but Card expects to see that turn around Nov. 6, propelled by Republicans such as Buehler and Gomez, as well as Kim Wallan, who is running against Michelle Blum Atkinson for House District 6, which encompasses most of Medford.

“We’ll see the blue wave crash on the shores of Oregon,” he predicted.

David Roadman, chairman of Jackson County Democrats, said, “I think we’ve got everybody fired up to vote.”

While some political commentators have said the blue wave is losing steam, Roadman said, “We’ve got more people working harder than they have in a long time.”

The governor’s race has captured a lot of attention, and polling has showed it will be close, but if turnout comes in close to 70 percent, Roadman thinks this county will pull strongly for Brown as well as Golden.

“What’s really disappointing is the nasty hit pieces coming out against Jeff, and Jessica’s getting some of that, too,” he said.

He said some of the ballot measures, including Measure 105, which takes aim at Oregon’s sanctuary status, have gotten voters’ attention.

Also the U.S. Congressional race between Democrat Jamie McLeod Skinner and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, has generated a lot of buzz among Democrats, Roadman said.

“It’s created a stir we haven’t heard in a long, long time,” he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on twitter @reporterdm.Reporter Paris Achen of the Oregon Capital Bureau contributed to this story.

Chris Walker, Jackson County clerk, processes ballots at the Jackson County Elections Office on Wednesday. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune
Chris Walker, Jackson County clerk, processes ballots at the Jackson County Elections Office on Wednesday. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune